Illya Azaroff, AIA, is among a growing group of architects actively looking aboard for resilient design strategies to employ at home. The Nebraska native and founder of New York architectural studio +LAB was tapped earlier this year by the AIA's New York chapter to head the region's recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy. Before that, he'd helped found and chair the association's Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee (DfRRC). Among the committee's outputs so far is the Post-Sandy Initiative Report, a 44-page document offering suggested best practices for resilience-based approaches to topics such as housing, commercial structures, waterfronts, transportation, and zoning and codes.
So far, he says, the collaboration among the architectural community in New York and the surrounding region on recovery work stemming from Hurricane Sandy–related damage is resulting in an unprecedented level of information-sharing among architects and designers. ARCHITECT caught up with Azaroff after his presentation Thursday at the New York Institute of Technology's TEDxNYIT: Meta-Resiliency, to a get a pulse on the current recovery efforts and learn what's next.
Q: Your talk at NYIT’s TEDx about meta resiliency focused on people and communities, but your work with the AIA's DfRRC deals with reconstructing physical spaces. How are those related?
IA: Everybody is resilient if they understand the steps they can take to make their building, their environment, and their neighborhood more resilient. If you know your neighbors' needs and desires, then they’re not afraid to ask you for help and you’re not afraid to ask them for help. That’s resilience of a community. It has much less to do with the buildings, but it activates you so you can do to the buildings what you need to do.
How can the architecture community help start or encourage that discussion?
We've already begun doing that with the Post-Sandy Initiative report and the related public charrettes, workshops, and lectures. We’re also now going into communities and having community charrettes with stakeholders to give them information not only on how to make a more resilient world but also on how to navigate all of the [bureaucracy] and insurance. As architects, we're trying to educate people so they can get through all of those weeds. We can help them understand where to start, and we’ll be at the other end when they finish to build those buildings or to make their house more resilient.
How do bureaucratic red-tape and institutional silos impact opportunities for this kind of collaboration in the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort?
There are some great things going on, but there are still some silos that need to be broken down. The first silo is that because we don’t experience these storms very often, the knee-jerk reaction has been to start from zero rather than the starting point being [to ask]: 'There are a lot of countries around the work that do [disaster response]. Why don’t we call them and ask their experts to come here?’ That’s now happening. The silos that still need to be broken down are the distance between federal funding and the local municipalities and state lines. We formed the AIA Regional Recovery Working Group group to incorporate four states [Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island] that were hit hard. That sharing of information has allowed us not to start at zero.
We have more red tape [than other disaster-prone countries], and the codes and zoning need to change wholesale. But it's beginning to change. Earlier this month at a New York City Council meeting, myself and a group of architects testified in support of zoning text amendments that take into account things such as the viability of older structures, up zoning, and accessibility. That's a small but specific example that the city's working fast to change these and they're looking to architects and engineers and planners to have this conversation, and I think that's brilliant.
When you talk about looking internationally, given differences in physical infrastructure and economic policy, what countries offer the best example?
They’re both high-tech and low-tech. On the low-tech side, many third-world countries have a more flexible infrastructure, which arguably makes them extremely resilient because a storm can pass through and they’re back to business within a day or two. We have such a fixed infrastructure that if it fails, bringing it back online is a great effort. We need a more flexible, softer infrastructure—meaning that it has redundancy and if some of it fails, it’s easier and quicker to find new routes around its direct path. That’s what’s in the SIR report: micro-grids, redundancy, all of those things. On the high-tech side, you can’t count out the Dutch; they are working with water in a way that they haven't before. In Germany, HafenCity [the port of Hamburg] has been built to last for the next 200 years. They're looking much further out than we are and engaging the water, living on the water.
DfRR's regional working group met in July and plans to announce its findings soon. Can you talk about some of the conclusions from that meeting?
We've had four community workshops so far and have three more in the coming year. We'll continue to bring people together in those communities, tackle local problems, and bring in best practices from around the region so we don't have to start at zero. For example, in New Jersey the governing bodies are now engaging the local architects based on the conversation we started at that workshop and the back-and-forth is very positive. The change is going to be very palpable as far as how we, as architects, affect the future [working] hand-in-hand with the governing bodies.